Some thoughts on Bahman Mah

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Roj Ram Mah Bahman, 1386 Yz

I was just about to go to sleep the other day when a Whatsapp message from a friend arrived: ‘Hi, I’m at dinner with cousins at the Yacht Club, love the place, has a lovely old-world charm… good food, but I’m veg for Bahman Mahino…and watching them eat fish…eggs…prawns…salivating, but then mind over matter!’

My friend’s predicament brought to mind a very interesting story recounted by Paramhansa Yogananda in his epic Autobiography of a Yogi. He was at the feet of his Guru, Sri Yukteswar Giri, at their Ashram in Calcutta. It was dusk and the Master was explaining some intricate detail of the Vedas. In this idyllic environment, a mosquito entered, well prepared to destroy the peace and harmony. It silently went and sat on Paramhansa’s thigh and inserted its painful antennae into him and drew the sweet blood! In immediate response, Paramhansa’s hand went up, to strike the offending insect and squish it into oblivion! Suddenly, remembering in who’s presence he was as well as Patanjali’s Yogic teaching of Ahimsa (non-violence), Yogananda stopped the hand from following through with the blow.

Immediately, Yukteswar Giri remarked: ‘why didn’t you finish the job?’ ‘Master! Do you advocate taking life?’ ‘No’, said Yukteswar Giri, ‘but the deathblow already had been struck in your mind.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Effortlessly reading his student’s mind, Yukteswar Giri explained: ‘Patanjali’s meaning was the removal of the desire to kill. This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of Ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under similar compulsion to feel anger or animosity! All forms of life have an equal right to the air of Maya. The saint who uncovers the secret of creation will be in harmony with its countless bewildering expressions. All men may approach that understanding who curb the inner passion for destruction.’

What the great Master was trying to explain to Yogananda was this: Ahimsa doesn’t mean mere non-violence in act. It means removing the very thought of hurting anyone. Just the thought of killing the mosquito was akin to squishing it. The man who sets upon the religious path, on the road to Frashogard, has not only to remove the physical non-violence from him but also exterminate even the germination of the idea of violence in his mind. When he reaches that stage, the wondrous beauty of God’s creation becomes apparent to him and he understands the right of every creature – even one that brings disease and pain – to its existence.

In the same way, as many Parsis struggle their way through Bahman Mahino, we seem to be missing the real essence of the religion. The right thing to do is not to starve oneself of his regular diet of meat and fowl, but to eradicate the very desire for that diet. To sit at a table with others and look longingly at their plates and then reconcile, unhappily, to the self-set discipline is not really following the principle of Bahman Mah.

But when the mind recoils at the horrific nature of cruelty that we bring to bear upon other aspects of creation so that we may enjoy our steak and chips; when the mind hears the silent screams of the mute creatures who are put on the assembly line of destruction to arrive, dressed and packaged beautifully as ready-to-eat morsels; when the mind understands the dreadful reaction, known in the Gathas as geush morenden – the last wish of the dying animal that Nature and God bring to bear upon those who have killed it the full face of divine retribution…it is then that the real essence of Bahman Mah is achieved.

Our Master, Ustad Saheb Behramshah N. Shroff explained this curious belief of Bahman Mah and vegetarianism thus: That the various Tarikats of the Zoroastrian religion have different levels of importance, depending on the times we live in. The Master explained that in times of the Zoroastrian monarchy, when Zoroastrianism was the state religion and the entire resources of the empire were at the disposal of the Magi, in such an age, vegetarianism was a viable option. Those were the days of Zoroastrian farmers, tilling the land with Zoroastrian Manthras, harvesting crops in accordance with the Fasal Gahambars. In such times, the output of the country contained within it the fragmented Anasers of our own souls. Such a diet, cooked in a Zoroastrian way and partaken of with Zoroastrian Baj prayers, really succeeded in arousing the feeling of Gospandi – selflessness and helped in collecting our lost fragments and making us whole.

But in today’s times, when there is no Zoroastrian monarchy, when plants and vegetation are themselves subject to horrific modification and violence using chemical fertilizers, genetic mutilation and grossly mechanised farming, the output does not contain any of the soul fragments, nor is it of goodness-inspiring vibrations. Khshnoom explains this is the reason that even communities which are strictly vegetarian, yet have an unhealthy level of business violence and unethical behaviour. If vegetarianism really led to people living better lives, such glaring examples would not be present.

Thus, Ustad Saheb gave the middle path – eat whatever you like, but speak the truth. And if truth has not been spoken, stand up and declare it so and seek repentance.

The practice of abstinence in Bahman Mah is a faint reminder of the glorious days of the Zoroastrian monarchy and an attempt to harness our own rampaging thoughts. Whether fowl or fish or eggs is ‘allowed’ in not of relevance. What is important is to tame our animal instincts, which threaten to lead us to baser passions and rise above the many temptations of modern life and become truly Bahman-like: selfless and willing to give up all we have for the benefit of another. That is the true essence of Bahman and Gao-Spenta. May we all achieve that stage soon!

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

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Comments

  1. Smita Kumar  July 3, 2017

    Beautiful article. Thank you!

  2. B bhoot  July 3, 2017

    Great explanation

  3. RUBY  July 3, 2017

    Clear cut as always. Thank you.

  4. Aspy  July 3, 2017

    Very absorbing & educating as always.
    Thank you.

  5. Jasmin  July 3, 2017

    Great read! Striving to achieve harmony and truly practicing truth is something we can all move towards.

  6. Minnie Gagrat  July 3, 2017

    With the grace of God I do not feel compelled to observe these 40 days of Bahman; nor do i miss the gosh machhi as circumstances have naturally contrived to keep me away from them. Our beautiful religion guides us to care for our bodies in a responsible way.
    thank you sir for your great article.

  7. Temus Bejon Maneckshana  July 4, 2017

    Kudos to Mr. Hathiram for a very thought provoking article. I can’t wait to share the guru-chela story with my grandchildren. Since they are 7 and 5, I will have to call it the “Mosquito Story.” My only “beef” (apologize for using the term during this month) is about the degradation of modern scientific processes used to grow better, more nutritious crop and higher yields. As our planet is shrinking and the need to feed more mouths is growing exponentially – especially in many poor African nations – Genetic Engineering helps the cause. In such horrific circumstances – lack of clean drinking water, lack of water for irrigation due to excessive heat and drought leading to poor harvest, resulting in such horrific human conditions – poor harvest leading to starvation and death, to meet the growing demands just to survive, one can argue that the end justifies the means. I love and respect our faith. Would not want it any other way. But if I was at the receiving end of such a human tragedy we call starvation, I would not ask if the food (veggies) before me was genetically mutilated (I prefer engineered)? Just for one second, I would encourage the readers to believe that science is good. I must put forth the theory that the hand of our good Lord is guiding the minds of our scientist to innovate for the good of the human race – grow more nutritiuous foods to feed the hungry. If this is not religion, what is? Yes, sometimes science and religion does work hand-in-hand.

  8. Mehroo Karbhari  July 7, 2017

    Love the lucid explanation.
    Thank you.

  9. Villoo R Shroff.  July 12, 2017

    Eye opening explanation.Thankyou. God bless.

  10. Roshni  July 15, 2017

    Very beautifully explained.. thank you .. such simple language is so easy to understand and touches the core..

  11. Dick Mody  September 24, 2017

    Thanks for the simple and lucid explanation Marzban. Abstinence from immoral,unethical or inhuman behaviour should be a permanent endeavour of any human being I feel and your article reiterates the same very well.

    Digressing a bit; may I know your views on Zoroastrians eating beef or pork?

    I dont eat them…but several Zoroastrians I know relish them…including a few mobeds. Since it is none of my business to ask them or intrude in their lives, I have refrained from asking them about it…and hence bothering you

    Thanks in advance

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